“The first phase is over but not the crisis in Ukraine,” explains the expert who negotiated the Budapest memorandum under the Clinton administration. “What Putin ultimately achieved is that he reminded NATO nations of the risks and costs of bringing Ukraine into the Alliance, at least under the current circumstances.”
Robert G. Bell, former National Security Advisor to President Bill Clinton then sent by Barack Obama as NATO Defense Advisor, now a lecturer in Brussels, was involved in the diplomatic process that led to the signing of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum , the agreement in response to which Ukraine agreed to send all its nuclear weapons back to Russia for disposal and to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty by renouncing to have nuclear weapons.
How has that memorandum been significant in the current Ukrainian crisis?
“The memorandum is not a treaty, but a set of diplomatic assurances solemnly put in black and white and signed at the OSCE, in Budapest, by the Russians and it has weight because for the Ukrainians it means that they have the right to live as a sovereign nation and independent. Of course, Russia can say that it is not a treaty and it does not count, but if we apply this line to the Budapest memorandum, then it does not even matter when NATO in 1996 reached out and concluded the NATO-Russia Founding Act, which it is not even a treaty but it contains important security guarantees for Moscow: the so-called “3 no”, that is, that NATO does not need, has no intention and has no plans to deploy any type of nuclear weapons east of the line created during the Cold War through Central Europe. I think the memorandum is one of the factors why the Biden administration was able to unify Europe and the West in responding to the Russian threat of further aggression against Ukraine ”.
Has a new phase opened in the crisis?
“Now is the time for the spin alternative. NATO and Ukraine says: we faced the Russian Bear when he was ready to leap and we showed our determination and unity. Moscow will say that Ukraine was preparing provocative and possibly violent actions against the Donbass region and perhaps also against Russia itself and that she prevented them. Eventually these two stories will continue to turn (personally I think that of NATO is more credible). Putin obviously aimed very high by asking to bring our troops back to their 1998 positions, but this often happens in negotiations, you start very high and settle lower. What Putin ultimately achieved is that he reminded NATO nations of the risks and costs of bringing Ukraine into the Alliance, at least under the current circumstances. NATO has been able to preserve the principle of open doors and Ukraine has continued to be told that it will one day be a member, but any decision to include it would require unanimity from allies and I think Putin has made it clear for years to come. which is not a path that should be followed for NATO. Both sides won in one sense. Indeed three parts: the West has enforced the principles of principle; Ukraine was not invaded; but Putin took home the message of what the price would be if NATO, in the near future, invited Ukraine to join the Alliance. The counterproductive aspect, for Putin, is that if before there was a certain ambivalence in Ukraine within civil society about joining NATO or not, now according to the polls there is a real change in those who see it as a a desirable solution in the long run “.
It’s not over?
“It’s not over. This phase is over, in the sense that NATO will probably not need to be in an advanced state of alert and it will be possible to withdraw the additional forces sent to the eastern front. This is good for NATO, but it is not over for the government in Kiev. President Zelensky must expect Putin to throw new, less obvious challenges at him. He will have to remain on guard ». How is the larger problem between the United States and Putin’s Russia resolved? “It can’t be solved. Putin is the product of his experience in 1989 and is paranoid about possible contamination from neighboring countries – whether it is an orange or other colored Revolution. He will always consider controlling this security zone between Russia and neighboring countries a priority to isolate its population from the risk that they want to pursue Western values ».
But is it possible to discuss arms control treaties with Russia?
“This could be the next step. The Kremlin could respond to some passages contained in Biden’s letter and in the NATO letter. The most interesting is the proposal to negotiate a new missile agreement in Europe. Since the INF treaty collapsed, there are no restrictions in place in Europe for intermediate-range missiles, whether they are nuclear or with conventional warheads for precision strikes. Russia kept its INF-violating missiles and many others. Once the INF treaty collapsed, the US military began developing non-nuclear but intermediate-range missiles with conventional warheads that can be useful as a deterrent against China. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said none of them will be deployed in Europe if they are nuclear, but there is no prohibition on the missiles being brought to Europe if they use conventional explosives. What Biden proposed (in the letter to Putin ed) is to exclude Europe as a deployment area for these missiles that some at the Pentagon consider the next step in deterrence against Russia as well. It’s a major bid from Biden that parts of the Senate – especially Republicans – would contest. Russia had said that it is a secondary aspect and that they were waiting for answers on the primary question of Ukraine’s entry into Europe. But let’s see if the proposal will be accepted now ».